Kids often like to use their imagination to construct alternative worlds where they will happily spend hours playing. This is a good thing and dramatic play benefits are observable across the literacy spectrum of the early childhood curriculum. Dramatic play is a type of play characterised by the delegation of roles and the acting out of different characters by children. Sometimes children will take on fantasy roles like a superhero or a supervillain, other times they will act out real-life roles such as doctors, police officers or mothers and fathers. Dramatic play reinforces emotional and behavioural control. It also often involves the application of learning resources like books and films which children use to build imaginary worlds.
The Types of Dramatic Play
There are two varieties of imaginary play: “structured” and “unstructured”.
Structured play involves supervision by a parent of teacher during dramatic play time. A parent or teacher may set up an environment for children to play in and then assign roles for children to assume. As problems arise in the set, a supervisor can help to negotiate solutions.
Unstructured play, on the other hand, allows children to come up with their own worlds and characters. Children are very capable of using the objects in their immediate environment to sustain their play. However, without props and supervision during problematic situations, the session might not last as long.
The Benefits of Dramatic Play
Teachers and researchers alike agree that dramatic play is an integral part of a well-rounded preschool program. Children of preschool age need time to relax, explore their imagination and develop emotional awareness alongside their peers. Dramatic play can teach self-regulation, language development, empowerment and conflict resolution, making it a very versatile tool in a child’s journey to maturity.
For example, during imaginary games, in particular, structured play, children are assigned roles. Roles are confined by rules and, interestingly, children are at least initially motivated to stick to the rules required of their character when they are engaged in dramatic play.
During dramatic play, children must communicate what they wish to happen in order for a made-up story to progress. Children are often inspired by the story they’re enacting and may assume different voices and vocabulary in order to remain in character. This helps them with self-expression and language development.
Empowerment is given to children when they assume roles of power within dramatic play. Superheros, doctors, parents and other empowered characters may be played out during dramatic play sessions. With great power comes great responsibility and children will learn to wield their imaginary powers in a way that helps them deal with childhood trauma. If children are playing superheroes or other characters typecast by conflict, structured play is advised to avoid physical altercation.
Both structured and unstructured dramatic play offer teaching opportunities regarding conflict resolution. For example, disagreements may arise when children do not agree who ‘dies’ during a play fight, or if menu items are unavailable within an imaginary restaurant. Disagreements offer children a chance to see from the same perspective and often require compromises to be struck.
It is important to encourage dramatic play in early childhood education. Dress up costumes and props should be provided assuming they are safe. Entire rooms can be temporarily rearranged so that kids have a safe space to enact their fantasies. At Robyn Taylor Early Childhood Centre, we encourage both structured and unstructured active play at various times in our schedule. If you would like to learn more about dramatic play benefits, head to our contact page for more information or call us on 02 9705 8309.